Thoughts on the Environment

It’s been a while since I posted here last. As you can imagine with four children now life has become rather busy for me. Also I have been working a bit on a software project in the last month. But I thought I would write some thoughts on the issue of how I think about "the environment". It is obviously a topic we are hearing more and more about, and is fast becoming one of our society’s favourite benchmark’s of morality.

On Global Warming

It seems that the consensus is that global warming is real and man-made, although every now and then I come up against skeptics (some more believable than others). To be honest, I’m not sure I really need to know. Most of the "good for the environment" things you can do have merits of their own irrespective of whether the planet is in immanent peril or not.

On "Carbon Emissions"

I’ve been cycling to work for the last year, which has a few benefits. First, it is much cheaper than owning two cars (I reckon we save around £70 per month by having just one car). Second, it is good for my health (except for the increased risks of getting squashed by a car). And third, it is a better environmental option.

As for long-distance journeys, this hasn’t been much of an issue for our family. We very rarely travel abroad, and most years our summer holiday is little more than 50 miles away. This year we’re camping just 25 miles down the road.

I occasionally ponder whether we could manage without a car at all. The main issues are to do with church. Public transport either to church on a Sunday morning or to cell groups around town in the evenings is simply not an option. I would also have to stop playing in the band at church.

On Energy Efficiency

I fitted our house with energy efficient light-bulbs, which I guess goes some way to offsetting the fact that the children like the light in the hall to be left on all night. As for other items in the house, when I buy something new, I am trying to be a little more conscious of its energy efficiency that I might have been before. However, I am not sure how environmental it is to replace something simply because it is not energy efficient. Surely the old television or refrigerator going to a landfill site is just as unhelpful for the environment.

On Recycling & Waste

Like most people these days, we are trying to recycle what we can, yet there always seems to be a remarkable amount of stuff generated that needs throwing away. My wife has bought some washable nappies that has cut down a lot on our waste. There are of course services like freecycle, that can take things that still work off your hands, but even so, junk that no-one wants or is broken beyond repair just keeps accumulating.

One of my pet peeves is the amount of stuff we buy or get posted that could just as easily have been received in electronic form. I try to get all my bills and bank statements sent by email, yet still some companies insist on sending me mountains of paperwork. I am also looking forward to the time when music, movies and software are all bought digitally instead of the need for a huge collection of plastic disks and cases. As for books, maybe one day there will be a viable way to buy and read books electronically (Amazon Kindle anybody?), but so far my attempts at reading books on a computer usually end up with me having sore eyes and a headache. I have also migrated my home studio recording equipment to a software-based solution (as much as possible).

I try to make a habit of using things until they have genuinely reached their end of life (and often beyond). Clothes, electrical items, bicycles, furniture should not be replaced until they are no longer fit for purpose. Where that line is drawn is of course a matter for debate, but it seems to me both financially and environmentally irresponsible for a Christian to be just buying newer and better all the time simply because they can.

On Eschatology

OK, its time to get a bit theological. Conventional wisdom at the moment claims that Christians don’t care about the environment because of their eschatology – Jesus is coming back and he’ll clean up the mess for us. Maybe there is a little of that, but I’m not sure for two reasons.

First, the reason many Christians don’t talk a lot about "the environment" is because we have a different name for it. We call it "Creation", and can be found singing about how wonderful it is almost every week at church. In fact a healthy doctrine of seeing our world as God’s creation entrusted to us as responsible stewards should be all the impetus we need to cause us to work against those things that destroy our environment.

Second, I think the reason so many Christians care so little about environmental issues is nothing to do with their eschatology but rather because of syncretism. We have made it possible to mix Christianity with secular materialistic consumerism.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully I have not come across as proud or self-righteous in this post. So far, the "green" things I have been doing are little more than token gestures. There are a whole host of things I could do to be more environmentally conscious. And of course, the environment is not the only issue I want to be more concerned about. There are issues of poverty, human trafficking, abortion, fair trade, church planting, and evangelism, and as a Christian I want to be in tune with what God’s priorities are.

I do want to let myself be provoked on this issue though. Perhaps the main reason Christians react against an environmentalist message is that it often comes bundled with a variety of anti-Christian sentiments. But that need not be the case. Try subscribing to the Simple Pastor blog and reading Phil Whitall’s thoughtful comments on a variety of subjects including the environment. There are also a number of interesting books on this topic from an evangelical perspective coming out at the moment. Apparently Doug Moo is going to be writing a book on Creation theology, with special reference to environmental issues, which is definitely one to watch out for.

Anyway, feel free to add in the comments what you make of this issue. Are you doing anything differently to be more environmentally conscious? Or do you see it as a distraction from the "main thing"?

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Environment

  1. Hi Mark,

    Sadly, many evangelicals have historically looked at these and related issues through a theological paradigm that sees them as “worldly”.

    Moo’s book looks interesting and will hopefully go some way towards broadening an understanding among Christians that our theology and experience of salvation does not replace or do away with the creation principles that precede it (in time and in principle.)

    Seen in this context, environmental concerns are an aspect of stewardship, a responsibility that us not abrogated as a result of conversion (any more than marriage is!)

    Further understanding needs to be gained on the social justice dimensions of environmentalism. If the science is correct, poor people are suffering today because of the lifestyle and environmental choices made by rich countries and individuals within them. This is surely a spiritual issue that will be of concern to all Bible believing Christians.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for the post and for the link.
    You’re right on a few levels, that we should think about the way we live because our actions have merit on their own, although of course spiritually we often change the way we live in the light of coming judgement! Perhaps the most helpful course of thinking is your final point, to review our own lives to see how much secular materialism has influenced us and how we can do something about that. Look forward to hearing more on this…

    PS. Tim Challies reviewed the Kindle recently, if you haven’t seen that but I still prefer books!

  3. It’s interesting to see this post, with very similar thoughts and actions to my own. There are lots of lifestyle changes we can make without being ‘green’ distracting us from following Christ Have you thought about where you buy your energy? I discovered EBICO and switched to them because it is ethical and at least as ‘green’ as any other ordinary tariff.

  4. thanks everyone for the feedback. it’s interesting to see that this post has gathered more attention on other blogs than almost anything I’ve written here in the last few years (which isn’t saying much). It is certainly a topic that the evangelical church needs to become much clearer on.

    Andrew, I did once look at “green” energy tarriffs, although the cost for switching was extremely high. I think step one for us would be to find ways to significantly reduce consumption. I will look in to EBICO a bit more though, thanks for the link

  5. I reckon there are two theological blocks to Christians engaging in environmental issues. The first is a misunderstanding of heaven, that we escape into an otherworldly paradise. If we take ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ seriously as a prayer, we’ll get our hands dirty redeeming the world, rather than withdrawing in anticipation of a future bailout.

    The second is that we understand sin almost exclusively as personal sin. We very rarely talk about sin as societal, or systemic. Because the environmental crisis isn’t our personal fault, we don’t see it as a matter of right or wrong. The Bible’s concern for justice is bigger than that, and demands collective responsibility.

    The two are closely linked actually. You end up with a personal sin – personal saviour – personal place in heaven approach, which is a very western, individualistic gospel. A more rounded view talks about a broken world, a saviour who redeems all of creation, and a God who makes all things new.

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